Enel and universities, innovating together

Published on Friday, 8 April 2016

University researchers and companies have always had a common goal: to improve peoples’ lives, each in their own field of study. Enel has embraced an Open Power philosophy, and as such, has decided to initiate collaborations with the best universities to develop innovative projects in the energy sector.

We therefore organised an event in our headquarters in Via Mantova in Rome called WE4U – Sharing Enel’s Global Challenges, in order to discuss our partnerships and the challenges ahead. The debate was opened by our Head of Human Resources and Organisation Francesca Di Carlo and the Rector of the Polytechnic University of Turin, Marco Gilli.

‘Our business is evolving in different directions. In the past, we were mainly interested in engineers and technicians. Today, new technologies and digitisation have have required us to seek out different kinds of expertise,’ stated Francesca Di Carlo. ‘Forming partnerships with universities is a very important step to help our employment selection process to evolve. We are looking for flexible, talented, open-minded individuals with a multicultural experience and mentality, since our company is present in over 30 countries. Universities can help us in this process, and we will provide our extensive industrial experience.’

Rector Gilli went onto explain that, while in the past, agreements were made between specific university departments and business units, ‘today, we must create a single open collaboration infrastructure, in which researchers from universities and companies work together to achieve objectives, while sharing the same physical workspace.’ What is important, Gilli explained, is creating a collaboration network that goes beyond merely sharing technology: ‘We need to talk about knowledge sharing, a field in which companies can make great contributions to universities, not only in terms of providing educators, but also in terms of developing degree courses and masters. We must work together towards our objective to develop technologies (from big data to renewables and robotics) that will have a decisive impact on our lives.’

At the end of the presentation, our Head of Communication Ryan O’Keeffe explained the key themes of Open Power to the audience, an approach that lies at the core of our operations both inside and outside of the company and which is illustrated in our new logo that was presented at the beginning of the year).

The discussion continued with an overview of the challenges that lie ahead for our Group’s various business lines, which can only be overcome with the help of innovation. At the end of the sessions, Head of Innovation and Sustainability Ernesto Ciorra took to the stage. ‘We can produce technological innovation with universities by identifying the best talents and sharing our expertise. Over the course of the last year, we selected a small number of university departments with which we plan to collaborate in order to produce the best possible energy innovation,’ he declared.

According to Ciorra, ‘Not only is the academic world able to offer advice, it can also offer direction. Embracing an open approach to innovation, as Enel has done, means accepting the idea that there is no one truth: being open to other points of view and perspectives is of great importance.’

During the afternoon session, universities presented their research activities in the energy sector. In addition to Italian universities of excellence, such as the Polytechnic of Turin, Polytechnic of Milan and Bocconi University, the session was attended by representatives of two of the most famous American universities in the world: the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

According to Carl Blumenstein from UC Berkeley, ‘Agreements of this kind are very fruitful, both for universities and for companies, as well as in training individuals and helping drive research. The energy sector is changing, and Berkeley has set up a centre for the research and development of innovative solutions to meet new energy needs around the world.’

Paolo Santi from MIT stated that, ‘working with companies is a source of inspiration for universities. We need different perspectives, and a partnership can bring benefits to both because universities can provide a long-term vision that companies often lack due to business considerations. At the same time, working closely with businesses allows us to improve our understanding of issues that have a major impact on people.’

The event ended with meetings between our colleagues and university representatives to discuss current projects and outline the most promising ones to work on together at the regional, national and international levels, in order to improve the daily lives of millions of people.